Turkey's opposition alliance splits over election candidate

The public split came after Erdogan said the elections would go ahead on May 14 despite criticism of his government's response to the recent earthquakes

Nevzat Devranoglu and Huseyin HayatseverReuters
Published : 3 March 2023, 05:32 PM
Updated : 3 March 2023, 05:32 PM

Turkey's right-wing IYI Party threw an opposition alliance against President Tayyip Erdogan into turmoil on Friday when it quit the bloc due to disagreement over who should run for president in landmark elections scheduled in two months.

The public split, following months of simmering discord, came after Erdogan said this week the elections would go ahead on May 14 despite criticism of his government's response to last month's devastating earthquakes in southeast Turkey.

Speaking at party headquarters in Ankara, IYI leader Meral Aksener said the other five parties in the alliance had proposed Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), as their presidential candidate.

But Aksener said her party, the second biggest in the alliance, would not "bow down" to pressure to accept him. Instead, she proposed as candidates the Istanbul and Ankara mayors, both from the CHP, saying opinion polls showed they would win by a large margin against Erdogan.

"As of yesterday, the 'Table of Six' (opposition parties) has lost the ability to reflect the will of the people in its decisions," she said, signaling her party's exit from the alliance.

"It is no longer a platform through which potential candidates can be discussed but a table that works to rubber-stamp a single candidate," she said.

Aksener said the nation was calling on the Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas to do "their duty" suggesting they step up as candidates.

In a video posted on social media hours after Aksener's announcement, Kilicdaroglu signalled that more parties would join their alliance, saying "the table needs to expand".

"Political games, impoliteness and Erdogan-type discourses have no place at this table," he said, in an apparent response to Aksener.

The leaders of the five remaining parties of the alliance will meet on Saturday, broadcaster NTV said.

The "Table of Six" met on Thursday for more than five hours to agree a candidate and issued a statement, signed by all the leaders including Aksener, saying: "We have reached a common understanding concerning our joint presidential candidate."

It had said the leaders would gather again on Monday to announce their final decision. But following that meeting, Aksener went to her party's headquarters in Ankara and held a meeting with IYI leaders until the early hours of the morning.

She made her announcement after a further meeting of party officials on Friday.


The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades. It has cooperated more closely since its success in taking control of major municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, from Erdogan's ruling AK Party in 2019 local elections.

The withdrawal of IYI is a blow to the opposition's efforts to put up a united front against Erdogan, said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo, a risk consultancy.

"Just like over the past 20 years, the opposition turned out to be President Tayyip Erdogan's greatest asset," he wrote in a note to clients. "With the main opposition bloc in disarray, Erdogan is now much better positioned to prevail on 14 May."

Erdogan had seen his popularity dip amid a cost-of-living crisis even before last month's earthquakes that killed at least 45,000 people in Turkey.

But despite widespread criticism of the government's initial response to the disaster, pollsters on Friday said Erdogan and the AK Party appeared to have largely retained their support.

In the southeastern province of Adiyaman, an AKP stronghold which suffered some of the worst earthquake destruction, some said their support for the government had waned because of its disaster response but they remained unsure about the opposition.

"There are many who want to vote for the opposition, but there are no candidates yet," said Mahmut in the badly-hit town of Besni. "I wouldn't vote for Kilicdaroglu. He has not won a single election."